Gary Richrath, former lead guitarist, songwriter, and co-producer for the Illinois-based rock band REO Speedwagon, died September 13. He was 65.
Richrath was a member of the band from 1971 until 1989. His guitar tone – a classic sound using a vintage Gibson Les Paul Standard through a Marshall amp – and playing were key elements in the band’s presentation. His writing credits include many of the band’s best-loved songs, such as “Golden Country,” “Ridin’ the Storm Out,” “Only the Strong Survive,” and “Take It On the Run.” In 1977, he and other members of the band took over production of their music, which resulted its first platinum album, You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can’t Tune a Fish. They followed with Nine Lives and, in 1980, Hi Infidelity, which was the best-selling album of 1981, spending 15 weeks atop Billboard‘s album chart and eventually selling more than 10 million copies.
After his departure from REO, Richrath formed a band and released a solo album, 1992′s Only the Strong Survive. The group toured for several years before disbanding in the late ’90s. Richrath was featured in the February and March ’93 issues of Vintage Guitar mag.
Richrath last accompanied REO onstage during a December, 2013, benefit to aid residents of central Illinois who were displaced by storms earlier that year. At the concert, held in Bloomington, he joined the band for “Ridin’ the Storm Out” to end its set, then stayed on while REO, Styx, Richard Marx, and others jammed on the Beatles’ “I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends.” Richrath grew up in East Peoria, which was directly affected by the storm.
Via social media, REO lead vocalist Kevin Cronin credited Richrath for giving the band a mental toughness when it was a hard-touring road act. “I learned most of what I know about being in a rock band from Gary Richrath. The entire REO family mourns his death and shares in the grief of his family, friends, and fans. Gary was both a unique guitarist and songwriter, and the embodiment of the tough guy with a heart of gold.”